David Lister: Take a risk: let us watch rehearsals

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The Independent Online

Gustavo Dudamel and his 100-plus youth orchestra from Venezuela were the biggest noise in town this week, literally. The orchestra, largely drawn from youngsters below the poverty line, has captured the hearts of concert-goers for their enthusiasm, passion, colourful costumes and riotous, jazzy encores as well as for their sheer talent.

But I was enthralled not just by the evening's performance at the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday, but by an event that took place in the morning – an open rehearsal of the orchestra by Dudamel. The place was packed, with an extraordinary large number of young children. What most classical music venues would give for the size and demographic of that audience.

It was fascinating to see Dudamel at work, taking his young charges through Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. He darted around with such sudden motions that there were times I thought his frizzy black mane would part company with his scalp. He made the players do the opening sequence of horn notes several times to achieve the right crescendo, then he retreated halfway up the stalls to conduct, listen, look, goad and encourage from there.

I came away thinking how I, and I'm sure many other attenders of arts events, would benefit from seeing more of these open rehearsals. The art of conducting is something of a mystery to most of us. It would be fascinating to see how different conductors interact with their musicians.

And it's not just classical music that I would like to watch in rehearsal. How does Trevor Nunn's approach differ from Nicholas Hytner's or Katie Mitchell's? Some open theatre rehearsals would be instructive, as would observing a choreographer take dancers through their paces.

Indeed, I can't think of any art form where fans would not jump at the chance of seeing that art take shape. I suspect that there wouldn't be too many empty seats if Bob Dylan allowed people into a rehearsal and sound check when he tours Britain next month. But it is theatre, classical music, opera and dance that have the most scope for open rehearsals.

There are, of course, two immediate objections to this. The first is that a performance does not just have skill and artistry; it has a certain magic. And seeing how the tricks are developed could detract from that magic. Not every director, choreographer or conductor would be willing to share their book of tricks. The second objection is that a rehearsal in front of an audience is never a truly genuine rehearsal. Actors will act when they see an audience. They will not be the people they would be in a closed rehearsal room. There's a risk that every conversation, every direction, every small argument, would be carefully choreographed.

But I'll live with those risks. The occasional open rehearsal in a variety of art forms would be illuminating for audiences, and strengthen the bond between venues and their regular patrons. And as they would probably be free, they might just attract those elusive new, young audiences too. Why not give it a go?

*Ken Stott, who is starring in the brilliant production of A View from the Bridge in London's West End, is reported to have thrown out a group of children making a noise in the theatre. That might explain the odd announcement made before the start of the play when I went to see it. The audience was asked please not to talk as A View from the Bridge is "an emotionally charged experience". I feel a bit queasy about such an announcement. The play is indeed an emotionally charged experience. But I would like to decide that myself by the end of the evening, and not be told it at the start. And what about plays that are not emotionally charged experiences? Is it OK to talk through them? I suspect that the late Arthur Miller would also have been uneasy about a public announcement reducing his play to three words. Let the people decide.

There's no excuse for all this prying

A number of readers have emailed following my piece last week, which queried why the Arts Council feels the need to question prospective arts board members about their sexual orientation. One arts board member says that the Arts Council is "obsessed with ethnicity and gender statistics which have no relevance to artistic decisions, and it has a completely outdated attitude to diversity".

But a reader from Northern Ireland makes the point that it could be worse. It could be Northern Ireland. There, applicants for an arts bursary not only have to disclose their sexual orientation, but they also have to disclose their race, their religion, whether they are a member of a political party, and, if so, which political party.

What I genuinely want to know is do the applicants with the most exotic sexual preferences, extreme politics, and fundamentalist religious beliefs go to the front or the back of the queue?